"Wow, are you okay? You look tired!" We’ve all heard it. That concerned, but slightly offensive question. Yes, everything’s fine, and yes, I am quite tired. As a busy mom of two and entrepreneur, under eye circles have become a part of my daily look, just like yoga pants and top knots. So I was especially excited to speak with dermatologists and beauty experts about their best tips for ditching those under eye circles.
While I won’t be signing up for surgery any time soon, there are plenty of other easy and cheap ideas for looking more youthful and rejuvenated.
Know the cause
First, it’s helpful to know what’s causing your under eye circles. Once you know the cause, it will be easier to find the right solution. New York oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Brett Kotlus, MD told me those pesky under eye circles are the most common reason patients come to his practice. "The most common causes of under eye circles are protruding under eye fat pads and under eye fat loss or hollowing (also called the tear trough)," he explained. These fat pads can protrude and cast a shadow around the eyes. People who have under eye fat pads usually have them due to genetics. Take a look at your parents and grandparents. If they had dark or protruding under eye circles, that’s most likely where yours are coming from.
Age is always a factor
Unfortunately, if you’re not thrilled with your under eye circles, they’re not going anywhere naturally. They actually worsen as we age. As we get older, we lose fat in our faces. When that happens, the fat pads under our eyes can look more pronounced, making us look even more tired.
"As we age, we lose fat in our face along with bone," Dr. Jill Waibel, owner of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, tells me. "This causes the depression and sunken look in our faces."
You may have also noticed this effect if you’ve ever lost weight. Losing fat throughout the body means less fat in your face, causing an older appearance.
Focus on prevention
The health and beauty experts I spoke with had a variety of ways to get rid of under eye circles, but they all agreed on one thing: it’s easier to prevent them than to treat them. "The best way to prevent under eye circles is to consistently use a revitalizing eye treatment," Chalet Cosmetics cofounder Andrea Rodriguez told me. "And of course to be sure to get plenty of rest and drink lots of water." Rodriguez recommends using an anti-aging cream like Chalet Green Apple Eyes every day. A good eye cream should provide the skin nourishment and moisture it needs to maintain its elasticity.
Sleep will help
The reason we hate our under eye circles is because they make us look tired. One of the easiest ways to improve your bags is to not be tired for once. That means it’s crucial to get plenty of restorative sleep.
"Get your beauty rest," owner of Blu Skin Care, LLC Zondra Wilson told me. "It’s not completely clear why not enough sleep results in dark circles under the eyes, but a lack of sleep tends to cause the skin to become paler (thus increasing the appearance of darkness under the eyes), and reduces circulation."
And while you’re getting your restorative sleep, try doubling up on your pillows. When we light flat all night, fluid pools under our eyes. If you sleep at a slight incline, that fluid drains down and won’t pool as much.
Wash your face before bed
Before going to bed every night, make sure to wash your face with a gentle cleanser. This is one of the easiest ways to keep a wide-awake, youthful look every day. Be sure to remove all your makeup before bed. "If you don’t [remove your makeup] as you age, you will constantly look tired," says Zondra Wilson. "Yikes! Nobody wants that." New York esthetician and consultant Liz Donat, LE agrees. "Never sleep in your makeup!" she told me.
Protect your skin from the sun
Here’s another reason to slap on the sunscreen: it will keep your under eye circles smaller and less noticeable. Donat recommends keeping sunscreen and sunglasses with you at all times.
Protecting your skin from sun damage helps prevent your under eye circles from becoming darker. "This [sunscreen] will help prevent the pigment that can be caused by sun damage and help our skin stay strong and not become thin from the sun damage as well," says Dr. Waibel.
Invest in a good concealer
Using a good concealer is a quick and easy way to cover up dark circles, especially when you’re in a hurry. Makeup artist and beauty blogger Hillary Kline considers a good concealer her number one strategy to get rid of under eye circles fast. "My favorite is Kat von D’s Lock-it concealer," she told me. "This product is my holy-grail product, because I tend to not get enough sleep and have dark under eye circles! It’s creamy, high-pigmented and full-coverage. It’s definitely my secret weapon to a flawless finish." Kline recommends always using a loose setting powder afterwards to keep the concealer from wiping off. Rodriguez recommends applying a light concealer in a "Y" shape and then setting it with a good powder foundation.
And when you’re choosing the right concealer, take a good look at those under eye circles. If your circles have a purple hue, try a yellow concealer. If the circles are more red, go for a greenish concealer. Blue circles are best covered up by a peach concealer.
"Concealers with a pink, salmon, or yellow undertone work very well to neutralize the blues and browns under the eye, depending on your skin tone," Donat told me.
Before applying your concealer, be sure to first dab on some eye cream. "Eye cream helps concealer to go on smoother," makeup artist John Stapleton told Elle. "It helps thin it out a little better so it doesn’t get cakey."
Try an eye brightener
An eye brightener is an under eye concealer that can give you a brighter, more awake look. "I always recommend topical preventative measures like using a great eye cream that contains brightening ingredients like vitamin C, small amounts of alpha hydroxy acids, licorice root, kojic acid, and azaleic acid," says Donat. "Vitamin K is the ingredient to look for to reduce the appearance of the blood vessels under the skin of the eye."
Just be careful, because many of these under eye creams can be irritating, especially if you tend to have sensitive skin. Use just a dab to see how you react. "I usually start with a bionic acid product, like NeoStrata [Bionic Eye Cream]," dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD told Elle. "You can also use a gentler retinoid, like La Roche-Posay Redermic Eyes, which contains a time-release retinol to reduce irritation."
Take an antihistamine
One of the most common reasons for under eye circles starts with seasonal allergies. Beverly Hills dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD explained to me that people who have allergies often have swollen or enlarged blood vessels under their eyes. Because the skin under our eyes is so thin and fragile, having swollen blue vessels right under the surface is very noticeable.
If you’ve noticed that your under eye circles look worse when your allergies are flaring up, think about starting a daily antihistamine. Dr. Shainhouse said you could also try taking pseudoephedrine to help with the swelling. However, many people don’t like how they feel when they take those "daytime" cold medicines.
Other ways to bring the swelling down include placing cold cucumbers on your eyes or even just splashing some cold water on your face. Because cucumbers are high in sodium, they will naturally draw fluid out from under your skin. If all else fails, try a beauty pageant trick and dab some hemorrhoid cream under your eyes. The cream is designed to shrink blood vessels, so it will temporarily take care of those bags!
Get your vitamin B
Celebrity MUA and artistic director for Osmosis Colour Mineral Cosmetics Alejandro Falcon recommends using a good under eye serum that contains niacinamide every night. "Niacinamide is a wonder ingredient when it comes to relieving dark under eye circles," he explained to me. "It is a form of vitamin B, a vasodilator and an anti-inflammatory ingredient, so when applied to an area topically, it will widen the cell walls and increase the blood flow to the area which will help to alleviate dark circles and minimize puffiness in the under eye area."
Having this vitamin B in your eye serum will help restore a healthy skin barrier and even plump up those fine lines that come with age. Having a thicker barrier on that delicate skin will also keep your skin more resilient.
Draw attention up with the right eye shadow
If all else fails, just distract people from your deep circles with a bright eye shadow. Kline recommends going with a bold white eyeliner. "Take a white eyeliner and apply it to the inner corners of your eyes," she explains. "By doing this, you will give the illusion of bigger and wide awake eyes. Try my favorite white pencil: Wet ‘n Wild Color Icon Kohl LinerPencil in the shade white — plus it’s only 99 cents!" Definitely worth a try before going to surgery!
Falcon recommends sticking with cool colors to draw attention away from red irritation or circles. "Switch from your go-to black eyeliner pencil to a navy blue one to brighten whites of eyes and give the illusion that you have gotten more sleep," he says. "I love Osmosis Eye Pencil in navy, which has incredibly long wearability."
Check your lash extensions
If you’ve been investing in any beauty treatments on or around your eyes, make sure they’re not causing the under eye circles in the first place. "My newest observation is a link between lash extensions and dark under eye circles," says Donat. "The lashes are gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but I often notice a trend that many women who continually wear lash extensions end up with under eye bags and dark circles from a lack of washing makeup, dead skin and dust mites from the eye area." Donat told me it’s also possible to be allergic to the adhesives used on the lashes. This allergic response will cause puffiness and irritation around the eye. Dry contact lenses or sensitivity to makeup could also cause an allergic response. If your eyes feel irritated after applying your gorgeous new lashes, try placing a couple cucumber slices on them for a quick trick.
Under eye fillers
If you feel like you’ve tried everything for your under eye circles, there are some more invasive options to try. Visit your plastic surgeon to discuss where to start. An under eye filler can be especially helpful if your circles are looking worse with age or weight loss. If you’ve lost some facial fat, the filler could fill in those fine lines.
"Under-eye fillers placed by an expert (oculoplastic surgeon or facial plastic surgeon) will disguise the fat pads and remove the hollowing so the shadows disappear," says Dr. Kotlus. "The results can last for a year or more, and the best way to do this is with a cannula (not a needle) and a filler like Restylane."
Finally, if you’re ready to get rid of your bags for good, surgery is an option. Most of these under eye treatments are temporary or need to be kept up every day. Surgery is a way to kiss them goodbye once and for all. A surgeon is able to actually remove those fat pads causing the tired look from under the eyes and shift them to a more hollow area of the face. Extreme? Perhaps. Worth it? Depends on how much they’re bothering you.
Start with natural treatments
Under eye circles can be annoying and distracting for anyone. It’s tempting to try the latest expensive cream or treatment to get rid of them quick, but remember that the basics work too. Get enough sleep. Wash your face every night. Splash cool water on your face in the morning.
If you’re not quite ready to try a medical intervention for under eye circles, you could always try the natural route. "You can use USDA-certified organic jojoba oil mixed with either tea tree or lemon essential oil underneath your eyes," says Wilson. "This will help eliminate puffiness as well as dark circles." To apply, just put a small amount onto your ring finger and dab it underneath your eyes. Wilson recommends using it up to twice per day.